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Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire   B

Warner Bros. Pictures

Year Released: 2005
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Mike Newell
Writer: Steve Kloves (based on the novel by J.K. Rowling)
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Robbie Coltrane, Ralph Fiennes, Michael Gambon, Brendan Gleeson, Jason Isaacs, Gary Oldman, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, Timothy Spall.

Review by Rob Vaux

Movie franchises that reach a Part Four are usually poised to either implode on the tarmac or settle into reliable mass-market delivery. Those in the latter category needn't be good (witness the Friday the 13th movies), but they do need to deliver their chosen formula in a manner to which their fans have become accustomed. The Harry Potter films have earned a certain amount of pedigree, and yet by now there's little left to astound or surprise us. We know Harry and his world so well; his friends and associates are as comfortable as old slippers. We welcome their return because we know what they'll deliver, not because they're going to blow our socks off with something radical and bold. Forget the tagline; nothing changes here. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire works because it sticks to the program: safe, reliable, a little cautious at times, but never without a strong sense of spirit.

And Harry's universe -- as imagined by author J.K. Rowling -- always has some new corners to show us. The film's opening gives us a peek beyond the confines of academia, when Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) accompanies his friends from the Weasley family to a professional Quidditch match. As with his predecessors, director Mike Newell admirably blends the familiar with the unique, elevating Rowling's signature wizard's sport into a Super Bowl-esque extravaganza complete with impossibly tall stadium and tailgating tents that defy the laws of physics. The sporting motif continues once Harry returns to school, as students from the French Beauxbatons Academy and the Russian Durmstrang Institute arrive at Hogwarts to participate in the legendary -- and very dangerous -- Triwizard Tournament. Here too, Newell shows the right touch, balancing the spectacle of these new arrivals with the reassuring comforts developed in the previous three films.

Perhaps the best juxtaposition of the mundane and the fantastic comes in the form of Harry's burgeoning adolescence. His female classmates suddenly seem... well, female, and that awkward realization makes for some excellent character development as Harry and his best pal Ron (Rupert Grint) try to make their way amid the suddenly perilous world of dating. It doesn't help that their third musketeer Hermione (Emma Watson) is rapidly emerging from ugly duckling mode, or that the school is hosting a big dance that threatens to throw them all headlong into each other's arms. With the young cast so well versed in their roles, they easily overcome the triteness of the material, and the strong rapport between the trio makes their foray into pubescence humorous and touching. To them, Newell adds a careful sprinkling of supporting turns from series benchwarmers like Neville Longbottom (Matthew Lewis), and a very funny scene in which Professor McGonagall (Maggie Smith) teaches her charges how to dance. The warmth and humanism of these moments gives the film a palpable soul, and holds it firm against the expected onslaught of hyped-up special effects.

It's just as well, too, for the remainder of The Goblet of Fire has a decidedly sinister bent. While the Triwizard Cup is intended for older students, someone covertly inserts Harry's name into the proceedings, forcing him to compete in tasks that threaten far more than his grade point average. The straightforward plot (welcome after the muddy acrobatics of The Prisoner of Azkaban) conveys a proper sense of peril, which Newell never squanders. Whoever entered Harry wants to ensure he doesn't finish the tournament alive, and the list of suspects is quite long. The treacherous Wormtail (Timothy Spall) returns from the third film to haunt the boy's nightmares, and various flavors of Malfoy are still slinking around as well. Overshadowing them all is Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes), Harry's true nemesis, whose appearance in the film's final minutes doesn't disappoint. Fiennes invests the character with a reptilian grace, moving in sinewy motions that suggest both alien malevolence and all-too-human ambition. His first face-to-face showdown with Harry is utterly terrifying, honing the film's darker themes and setting the stage for the presumably greater conflict to come. It's to Newell's credit that he handles Voldemort with the same skill that he delivers the film's lighter scenes, and that the assembled whole functions harmoniously despite its varying tone.

Of course, that's all to be expected by now. So adroitly have Newell's predecessors paved the way and so carefully has the series charted its path that genuine missteps are hard to come by. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire moves assuredly towards a destination that is becoming clearer with each new film. It doesn't strike any brash new notes, but neither is it asked to; to do so might throw the whole epic out of alignment, and that would be a shame. For while Harry is corporate product first and foremost, he's product with a heart. The greatest testament to his success is that we still care about him, and want to see how his adventures all turn out. The Goblet of Fire succeeds by respecting that trust, delivering another solid chapter in an eminently reliable franchise.

Review published 11.17.2005.

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